The U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve is the largest multinational coalition fighting ISIS in the Middle East. It does so, primarily, by dropping bombs from planes on targets that the coalition suspects are affiliated with the terrorist group. Since the coalition was formed in 2014, it has published weekly “strike releases” detailing approximately where and when coalition planes dropped bombs or other munitions.
Guess what? It’s not doing that anymore.
As Airwars—a nonprofit monitoring organization that tracks civilian casualties across America’s wars in the Middle East—pointed out, the coalition will be reducing the frequency of strike releases to bimonthly, and has also done away with details as to where those strikes happened.
Previous press releases, like this one from December, detailed both a general location and the date of a strike, as well as its target. The new twice-monthly releases just have general totals of numbers. Locations of individual strikes may seem like minor details in the context of the U.S.’s massive military involvement overseas, but they’re vital for monitoring organizations and neutral observers to match up and fact check local reporting of casualties and collateral damage. In June of last year, for instance, the U.S. finally admitted to killing 40 civilians in a 2017 airstrike near Raqqa, after a months-long investigation by Human Rights Watch and a U.N. inquiry. While strike reports aren’t the be-all-end-all of the coalition’s accountability for its actions, they’re the nuts-and-bolts data that researchers refer to when comparing government claims and other reports. The less information we get from them, the harder it is to keep track.
This is also part of a pattern of military officials releasing less and less information about who and what we’re bombing in the Middle East. Estimated civilian casualties abroad—particularly in Iraq and Syria—have skyrocketed under the Trump administration’s leadership, and coalition partners have consistently eroded transparency over how violence is applied. Recent months have been particularly brutal: Airwars estimates that 221 civilians died from U.S.-led coalition bombs in November alone, the highest rate of death since the 2017 mass bombing of the Islamic State’s headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. That year, the coalition made another subtle but important change—it stopped saying which coalition partner was responsible for which deaths.
I reached out to the CJTF-OIR to ask if more precise strike information would be made public in the future, and I’ll update this post if I hear back.
In other words, as it stands now, we’re getting twice-a-month updates on just how many bombs we’ve dropped, but very little, if any, information on who dropped the bombs, where they were dropped, and what they hit. And invariably, this means more people will die with even less accountability for the people who killed them.